Beer is composed of malt, hops, water and yeast. It can be brewed at home using one of two methods: 1) all-grain brewing, or 2) a malt extract brewing kit.
To produce beer, yeast ferments the sugars in malted barley. All grain-brewing involves converting malted barley starch into fermentable sugar, and then extracting those sugars. With a malt extract brewing kit, the sugars have already been converted and extracted for you. As a result, when you make beer with this method the process isn't much more complicated than making a box of macaroni and cheese. In this article, we'll be discussing the simpler process of using a malt extract brewing kit.
The process can sometimes sound more complicated than it really is. Lots of people find it helpful to learn visually by seeing the brewing process actually demonstrated in addition to reading about it. In fact, it's helpful for everyone to see it! We recommend you check out BeerEasy for good video instructions.
The brewing and fermentation of beer can be broken down into the following steps:
- Buy the ingredients. Buy a malt extract brewing kit. There are different kits for the various beer styles (e.g. Pale ale, Amber ale, Porter, Stout, Oktoberfest, Pilsner, etc.). Most beer kits contain:
- A can (or dry packet) of pre-hopped malt extract. Some kits contain 2 cans. (Kits that use 2 cans produce a better tasting beer.)
- A packet of yeast.
- Depending on the style of beer, the kit may also contain one or several small packages of hops.
Beer kits typically make 5 gallons.
- Gather your equipment. At a minimum, you will need:
- Boiling pot (a 5-gallon enamelware pot is an economical choice)
- 6-gallon food-grade plastic bucket (to be used as the fermenter)
- Stirring spoon
- Small saucepan
- Can opener
- Temperature gauge
Note: To avoid any strange tastes/smells in your beer, make sure the fermentation bucket is clean and that it doesn't have any residual odors (like pickles). These smells will end up in your beer.
- Clean and sanitize your equipment. It may seem strange to the first-time brewer, but probably the most important factor for success is good cleaning/sanitization. Clean all your equipment with hot water and a mild, unscented dishwashing detergent. Be sure to rinse well.
- Sanitize some water. Boil about a half gallon of water in a small saucepan for 10 minutes. Then, cover it, set it aside, and let it cool to room temperature. This water will be used for rinsing your sanitized equipment (e.g. spoons, etc.) and rehydrating your yeast.
Now that we've prepped, we can begin the actual beer-making process.
Type 2: This kit contains a small dry package of finishing hops. To use the hops from this kit, add the small package to your wort now. Proceed to Step 4.
- Boil 3 gallons of water. Take your 5-gallon enamel pot and add 3 gallons of water. (This is the water your beer will be made of.) Bring the water to a boil. Then, turn off the stove.
- Add malt extract to the water. Now, stir the malt extract into the water to make the "wort". Make sure the extract completely dissolves. (If your malt extract is the dry variety, make sure there are no clumps; if the extract is syrup, make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot.)
- Add the hops to the wort, if applicable. (Whether you add hops depends on the type of kit you are using.) There are 3 types of kits:
- Type 1: The kit does not contain any hops. Ninety percent of kits on the market fall into this category. Proceed to Step 4.
Type 3: This kit contains multiple packages of hops, depending on the style of beer you're making. During the boiling period, you will add the hops packages in a specific sequence. To start, add the "bittering" hops package. Proceed to Step 4 to add the remaining packages.
Bring the wort to a boil. (For each of the 3 kits, there are different boil times.)
- Type 1: Boil the mixture for a very short time (less than 5 minutes) for pasteurization. The instructions accompanying this type of kit will typically tell you to add 2 pounds of sugar to the can of malt extract. I recommend that you substitute 2 pounds of dry malt extract instead because the beer will taste better. (You can buy dry malt extract from the store in addition to the kit.) At the end of the boil, add the 2 pounds of dry malt extract (or sugar).
- Type 2: Boil the mixture a short time (between 15-30 minutes, according to the kit instructions).
- Type 3: Boil the mixture for one hour. After you've added the first "bittering" hops package (see Step 3), add the remaining packages in the following order:
- Thirty minutes after the mixture boils, pour in the second package of hops (this adds the hops flavor).
- Approximately 10-15 minutes later, add the third package (this adds the aroma).
Watch for boilovers. As the wort boils, foam will form on the surface. This foam will persist until the wort goes through the "hot break" stage when the proteins coagulate and settle out. The wort will easily boil over during this foaming stage especially when hops are first added, so stay close by and stir frequently. Blow on it, and turn the heat down if it begins to boil over. Put a few copper pennies into the pot to help prevent boilovers.
Cool the wort. Regardless of the type of kit, after boiling the wort must be cooled to yeast-pitching temperature (65 to 77° F, 18 to 25° C) as quickly as possible. To do this, immerse the pot in cold water or an ice bath. A sink, a bathtub, or a handy snowbank all work well. Be sure to keep the lid on the pot while cooling to prevent any cooling water or other potential contaminants from getting inside the pot.
Pour the cooled wort into the fermentation bucket. When you pour the wort, do it aggressively so that it splashes and churns. This action adds the oxygen yeast needs for growth. For best results, pour some back into the boiling pot, and then pour it into the fermenter again. This is the only time during the brewing process that the beer should be aerated or exposed to oxygen. For all other transfers, make sure the beer flows quietly with very little disturbance in the flow and minimal contact with the air.
Add water to the fermentation bucket. Bring the total liquid volume in the fermenter up to 5 gallons by adding water. (If using tap water, make sure it doesn't smell or taste like chlorine. If it does, run it through a carbon filter first or simply substitute bottled water.)
Aerate the wort again. Now, pour some of the entire mixture back and forth to the brewpot a few times. An alternate method of aeration is to use a clean/sanitized egg beater.
Rehydrate the yeast. Measure out 1 cup of the "sanitized" water (refer to the "Preparation" section of this article). For best results, the water temperature should be between 90-100°F (32-38°C). Don't let the temperature exceed 110°F (43°C). Empty the packet of yeast into the water; stir until it is completely dissolved.
Add the yeast to the fermentation bucket. Now, pour the rehydrated yeast into the fermentation bucket. Stir the mixture slowly for approximately 10 seconds until it has dissolved.
Cover and store the fermenter. Put the lid tightly on the fermenter, and carry the bucket to a secure location where it will remain undisturbed for 2 weeks. Choose a location that has a stable temperature of 65 to 70° F (18 to 21° C). A warmer temperature of 75° F (24° C) is OK, but if it's above 80° F (26° C) the flavor of the beer will be affected. As soon as you have moved it, insert the airlockand fill the airlock with clean water or sanitizer solution.
Leave it alone! After about 24 hours, the airlock will be bubbling steadily, the exciting evidence of fermentation! The fermentation will proceed for approximately 2-4 days, depending on the conditions of your fermentation. The activity will decrease as the yeast consumes most of the malt sugars (although fermentation continues long after the bubbling diminishes). Leave the beer in the fermenter for a total of 2 weeks.